At the time of writing it’s been a day since I walked out of The Last Jedi and the on-line reaction to it has been surprisingly diverse with a lot of people either disappointed in the film or downright hating it. Which made no sense to me because I downright loved the film, and classed it as the best the franchise has been since Empire. Having had the time to think things through and read the negative reviews I think I understand to a certain degree, after The Force Awakens was criticized for basically being A Newer Hope, The Last Jedi does all it can to take some of the boldest steps ever taken in a Star Wars film and actively doesn’t try to please everyone. It is completely unexpected from a company like Disney, but they just might have made one of the bravest Star Wars films to date, and I’m definitely on board with it all.
Picking up almost immediately after the last film, The Resistance has been found by The First Order and are evacuating, with Poe’s (Oscar Isaac) help they are able to take out an enemy dreadnought, but at the cost of all their bomber-ships and several X-Wing Pilots. Leia (Carrie Fisher) demotes Poe for acting without thinking just as Finn (John Boyega) wakes up bringing some good news to the Resistance, however, despite travelling through hyperspace, the First Order are still able to track the Resistance to their rendezvous point. Realizing they can’t escape without being tracked, the Resistance decides to stay out of lethal range and hope that they’re fuel reserves hold long enough for an escape to appear. Not agreeing with the passive strategy, Poe has Finn and mechanic Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) find a code-breaker to disable the enemy tracker and allow them a chance to get away.
Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) has found Luke (Mark Hamill) on Ahch-To and wants nothing to do with the Resistance, however, after learning of Han’s death at the hands of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) (spoiler alert; Han’s dead and that sucks) Luke reluctantly agrees to teach Rey about the Force and more importantly, why the Jedi order has to come to an end. As Rey pieces together Luke’s past with Kylo and what’s happened to him since defeating Emperor Palpatine, she starts to feel a pull to the dark side, and wonders if the answers she’s looking for aren’t where she thought they were.
On a base level this is probably the smallest story Star Wars has ever done, cutting between a chase movie, a heist movie, and a training montage with the First Order’s methodical assault on the Resistance taking up the majority of the story. Admittedly there is a bit of a lull in the second act when all the pieces need to catch up to each other, but as soon as the third act hits everything comes together. What this film does and where it goes is downright shocking at times and I’m actually not surprised that people are pissed because they go so far that I actually had to ask if they remembered there’s another film after this, but it all works for the story. It’s why the actual plot itself is relatively small and self-contained, once everything starts hitting you the lack of outside distractions allows the central conflicts to stand out. Some might see the resolutions as disappointing for just how little of an impact we get overall, but for me it was brave of Disney to tie off the many plot-threads, but still leave enough room to streamline towards Episode 9.
The character work was strong, especially with returning favorites, I’ll cop that Poe isn’t given that much to do, but his part as the audience surrogate to argue against the passive Resistance was a nice touch, especially in regards to how that story-line plays out. His biggest rival is Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) who takes control after Leia is predisposed. Holdo is difficult character, you believe her intentions are right, but she lacks the battle-hardened ways of Star Wars and takes a very inactive stance against their odds and butts heads with Poe as a result. Despite that though, her overall place in the story works to tie into the central theme of coping with failure and Dern’s ability to make us dislike a character then totally redeem herself within the same movie is impressive. In the middle of them is Leia, a princess who lost her home then turned to a General who lost her son. Carrie Fisher’s tragic passing does weigh on the film and while her final performance isn’t without controversy – there’s a particular scene which is already bringing discussion – the gravitas she brings to the much older, much more world-weary, Leia who laments the loss of life over decades of fighting the Empire and the First Order is well-worth seeing, even with the tragedy of knowing it’s the final curtain.
Boyega’s return as Finn is fun though a little too jokey to start with, his first scene with Rose involves a few too many pratfalls and overall, it did feel like they were reaching for ways to fit Finn into the story. Finn and Rose’s mission to find the code-breaker were the film’s weakest aspect. But much like the film itself, Finn comes around in the end, while he has left the First Order that doesn’t mean he’s joined the Resistance, in fact he only stays because he wants to know Rey gets back safely. It isn’t until he’s able to face his past head-on and move on that he recognizes the importance of the Resistance, as funny as Boyega can be, he nails the emotional turning point Finn has.
Rose is a bit of an odd-duck, on the one hand she’s sort of thrust into the film and fast-tracked into a love-triangle with Finn which is completely unearned, but I like what her character represented. At the start of the film Rose loses her sister and is obviously upset about it, but as soon as she realizes how she can help the Resistance with Finn, she jumps at the chance, and takes every opportunity she has to help their cause. While her dialogue can be iffy at times, Rose just has this hopefulness about her that ties into the film’s message of holding onto hope, and it’s nice to see someone fighting to hold on despite having every reason not to.
The two of them are joined by BB-8 who’s just as cute and hilarious as ever. Some of the film’s humor does overdo it at points, but BB-8’s beeps never get old, though they may have overpowered him at a couple points. They are also eventually joined by DJ, (Benecio Del Toro), to go into details on him would spoil one of the film’s best subversion, but DJ is playing a long game, and hopefully has more to play into the story yet.
Ridley steps back into Rey with ease and helps grow her character beyond just being a “Mary-Sue”. She’s lost, confused, alone, and realizing that the one person that can help her is a grouchy old-man with little care for her discovery of the Force. There’s actually a great contrast between Rey and Luke that becomes evident once he starts training her. Rey’s optimistic view of the world – mirroring a younger Luke from Return – keeps her headstrong even when approached by the Dark Side, something Luke wants to actively avoid. All through her training, Rey holds onto the belief that there is the old Luke Skywalker in the heart of this old man, and more importantly that there is light inside the darkness. Some might call it naivety and even the film tries to break Rey downwards in the third act, but she captures a part of the Star Wars mythology that hasn’t been touched upon yet; what happens when Light and Dark meet? This is a big stepping stone for Rey’s journey and holds a lot of potential for her moving forward, much like Rose, she holds a lot of hope, but where Rose holds hope for the Resistance, Rey holds hope for the darkness.
One of the more controversial figures of this film is Luke Skywalker. There’s a lot of people saying that this film butchered Luke Skywalker to which I have to say, it’s been 30 years and a lot has happened to him since then, most notably his failure at keeping Ben Solo safe from the Dark Side, and his reaction to losing his nephew bringing about more death and pain around him. Luke’s cynical, hard-edged change of heart isn’t out of nowhere, it’s coming from a very personal place, he bought into the praise that he was Luke Skywalker: Jedi Hero, but when he failed as a teacher, failed as an uncle, and failed as a brother, he distanced himself from everything he saw as the catalyst to Kylo Ren. It’s one thing for Hamill to step back into Luke’s shoes, but to play a vastly different Luke than we’ve seen before is much more impressive and his turn as the grumpy old teacher. While a cliché in itself, keeps him distant enough from just being the sequel trilogy’s version of Yoda. Instead, we get an angry, bitter and even frightened Luke, but not without flashes of his old self hiding away, a meeting with R2 being a key scene to break through his facade. From where he is at the start of this film to where he ends up is a near-perfect arc for the character and provides Luke with the best examples of personal redemption he could’ve hoped for.
Rounding out the film are the villains, Andy Serkis turn as Supreme Leader Snoke finally appears without a hologram, and he’s as menacing as ever with his casual use of The Force adding to his terror. Snoke is one of the other controversial portions of the film, so I won’t go into his character, suffice to say he turns out to be one of the braver aspects of the film with how they handle him, and how he plays into the series going forward. Domhnall Gleeson is a still a bit underwhelming as General Hux, he’s gone from Space Hitler to punchline with everyone from Poe to Snoke treating him like a joke, compared to Kylo, he’s a fairly typical villain type and I don’t see him growing beyond that, but there’s a few hints here that could lead into something for him in Episode 9.
And speaking of Kylo, Driver once again provides the Saga with its most interesting new villain, rather than confirming him as a Sith lord, killing his father has just torn him apart further, and now he has to face the prospect of losing his mother as well. But what sets him apart is his reaction to Rey, while the anger is there, he finds himself fascinated by this strange girl from nowhere and what she could mean for his future. There’s an element of the film I won’t get into, but it allows a more personal side of Kylo to shine through, but you’re never entirely sure how to interpret it. With the blur between Ben Solo and Kylo Ren getting harder to distinguish, even when you think he’s going one way, he turns another, while he might be more subdued here than he was in The Force Awakens, but his final moments prove there’s a lot more to come from him yet.
Rian Johnson has already proven himself in sci-fi with Looper and in storytelling with some of Breaking Bad’s best episodes (Fly, Fifty-One and ‘Greatest Episode of TV Ever’ Ozymandias) so handing him the reigns to Star Wars seems a no brainer. Johnson definitely delivers, despite the small scale this film is loaded with ideas, lore, and themes that compliment some of the franchises best action beats. The opening Dreadnaught attack is a fun little starter piece, but not without the weight of loss behind it, while the quick surprise attack of the First Order soon afterwards decimates the unprepared survivors. A mid-movie chase scene through a Casino is a little sillier than it needed to be, but once all the pieces come back together, it’s non-stop, from the moment the film drops the most jaw-dropping, Holy Shit moment of the Saga since Vader cashed his paternity check. We have everything from one-on-one melee combat to a Throne Room brawl with one of the franchises best shots to a BB-8 piloted Walker to a final stand-off on the salt planet – not ice, this isn’t Hoth alright – against the final bastion of Resistance soldiers piloting crappy rust-bucket fighters against the much more advanced and deadly First Order that gurantees failure if they even try to take them on.
That theme of failure just ebbs through this film, I know the cliché is ‘The sequel must be darker’ which I’m pretty sure was started by Empire, but Johnson doesn’t just make it darker, he makes it utterly desperate. Luke fails with his teachings, Rey fails with her beliefs, Finn fails with his trust, Poe fails with his leadership, for every moment that feels like a win for the Resistance, there’s another ready to snap victory away from them to the point where it feels like all the good guys do is lose. That slow loss of hope starts to build and build, it’s why I can’t understand why people say Finn and Rose’s story-line was worthless. They hold the biggest loss of all, and the film needs them to hammer home the point that they’re on the losing side, while the original trilogy’s Rebels weren’t massive, but they at least had solid numbers and resources, here it feels like this group of 400 is all there is. This also ties into Luke’s story, his failure to save Ben Solo translates into his reluctance to teach Rey, coming off as condescending and standoffish because he’s scared to fail again, either through lack of understanding or sheer willful ignorance. Luke ignores Rey’s potential because the thought of stepping back into the fight and losing again is too much to take, rather letting the Jedi die with him than risk exposing another student to the Dark Side.
But it’s here that hope feels strongest, it’s why characters like Rey and Rose are needed in a film like this, it’s why the finale feels so earned, it’s why Rey’s arc has her bridging the gap between Light and Dark. There is always hope and there is always Redemption even for those who don’t want it, this film could’ve very easily ended on another down-note like The Empire Strikes Back, but it gives us something bittersweet that shows us there is a chance, that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that someone; be it Rey with her optimism, Poe with his leadership, or even Kylo with his confliction, someone can find it.
Going into this review, I was ready to drop the 5/5 on The Last Jedi! I walked out of the theater absolutely gobsmacked by what I saw and the places I was taken that I never thought were possible in a Star Wars film. Having let my excitement die down and looked at the some of the complaints, I can see where people are coming from, there’s a few odd moments and the Casino sequence isn’t up to snuff with the rest of the film. But even so, I still loved this film and still class it up there with Empire as one of the franchises best entries. I loved the emotional weight of the story and how ballsy Disney were to pull off some of the scenes they did. I loved the range of acting with Ridley, Driver, and Hamill being the standouts for how their characters grew and how they all played into each other, and I loved Johnson’s use of failure and despair to cast a dark net over the film while carrying some of the heaviest themes Star Wars has seen in a long time. Perfect? No. Flawed? Yes. Brilliant? Absolutely.
I am giving Star Wars: The Last Jedi a 4.5 out of 5 Hairpieces!